The 'cloud native' approach to application development emerged from Silicon Valley companies such as Google, NetFlix, and AirBnB, and, in general terms, describes the creation of software that is easy to deploy in the cloud and scale. It means breaking applications into modular microservices and typically involves using tools such as containers in conjunction with agile and devops software development methods.
But it is not just these large tech companies which see a need to accelerate software development. While few businesses find it necessary to roll out small updates to applications every few seconds as Amazon does, building reliable customer-facing applications is a common goal for most.
A new report from Capgemini, which surveyed 900 business and IT professionals globally, shows that while uptake of modern development tools and processes is at an early stage for many organisations, it is rising quickly and set to become the 'default' method for deployment in future.
The report claims that up to 15 percent of new application development projects currently under way are 'cloud native', and this is set to increase to 32 percent in the next three years. In the UK specifically, uptake will reach 40 percent by 2020, higher than the US, for example, where 11 percent of apps will be cloud native by this point.
"For most applications and new developments we will see cloud native development as the way forward," says Toby Merchant, Capgemini's head of Digital Platforms. "We don't think that in 2020 it will be 32 percent and stay there: it will grow more and more. We have all seen technology accelerate cloud development in the past few years and we don't see any reason that the trajectory is going to change."
There are a number of perceived benefits of cloud native approaches. This includes the ability to improve businesses agility and improved customer experience.
"Creating a better customer experience is a key reason to move to the cloud. Generally it allows clients to be more nimble, more innovative and develop their products and services in a more efficient way, based on what their customers are requiring from them."
However, not all businesses will move quickly. Merchant says that while there are businesses which are pushing ahead with cloud native development for new applications, many are yet to begin. He adds that not all applications are suited to this approach, and it doesn't make sense to invest in moving certain legacy applications to the cloud.
"It obviously depends on what kinds of applications you are creating. There will be some applications which it wouldn't be appropriate to move into the cloud and we will still have legacy applications where it doesn't make practical or financial sense to migrate those into the cloud."
Furthermore, overhauling software development practices can be a significant challenge for companies. Replacing monolithic applications and adopting new development processes tends to require organisational as well as technology changes. It is something that vendors operating in this space – such as Pivotal and Red Hat – have cottoned on to, and provide consultancy services to support businesses.
"Whilst there is a great advantage in going cloud native, there is still a cultural shift in getting businesses to adopt a more agile and devops based approach," Merchant says.
A particular challenge is access to skills. "It is not only finding people who have the new development skills in the new toolsets and technologies that are coming out like microservices and containerisation. But it is also that there are skills in regards to an agile approach as well. So clearly cloud native needs to go hand in hand with agile and devops, and actually finding people with those skills [is difficult]. It is a pretty hot market in the UK right now, so that is something that I think our respondents are finding quite hard, to get the right people into their organisations."
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